More posts coming!

Hello everyone!

Things have been quite busy over the last six weeks since I’ve been back from holiday – getting back into the swing of things, as well as starting a brand new job! I’m now a Digital Content Producer, working for a great company in central Auckland. I prepare news articles on a daily basis, as well as working on the social media strategy and going to events as the in-house photographer.

My sincere apologies for the lack of posts, it’s been a busy few weeks while I get things kicked off at my new role. But now that we are fully into the Christmas period, I should have some more time to write some more posts about all things Digital Media. I’m really excited to write about what I’ve been learning in my new position and I can’t wait to share it all with you!

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know!

Around the world in 43 days

Hi everyone!

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last 6 weeks – my husband and I have just returned from an amazing six-week trip through Europe and the United States. Over the past 43 days, we visited 12 cities in seven different countries – Leicester and London, United Kingdom; Paris; Bad Homburg and Frankfurt, Germany; Prague; Venice; Rome; Athens; Santorini; Honolulu and Maui.

While we were enjoying the sights and sounds of the world, I received hundreds of newsletters that I had previously subscribed to, which gave me thousands of ideas for new posts. Now that I am back to reality, I will be continuing my writing on all things digital media.

If you have any questions or you would like information on any aspect of this industry, please do let me know!

Amanda

Email Analytics – how are you using them?

Email marketing has become vital to a marketer’s overall strategy. Whether you’re a business-to-business company selling a service, or a business-to-consumer company selling products, email marketing has truly changed the way we do business.

In previous posts, I’ve written about the importance of always testing your email, how media queries can help your email render on a wide variety of devices and that plain text should be included on every single email you deploy. I would like to elaborate on the theme here and talk about Email Analytics – metrics that can show you how engaged your customers are, which email client is being used most often, where your customers are when they open your emails and so on.

The company I work for uses Litmus to test email single email for spam filter behaviour and email client previews, which is a great way to better understand the content of particular emails. So it’s only fitting that today’s post is also bought to you by Litmus.com.

Did you know that you have the ability to check which email clients and apps your subscribers are using? This is a brilliant way to ensure your emails are displaying and being read on every device, and Litmus offers this function. However, as previously mentioned, there are so many email clients and apps that your subscribers could use – desktop, mobile, webmail clients, it’s an ever-growing, ever-changing list. Not to mention, multiple versions of each of these.

When using Litmus to get an idea of what your email will look like across different clients, it’s really important that the email is designed to render as accurately as possible. For example, you may have done some analysis in the past that shows most of your clients open emails on mobile and you’ve been able to narrow down certain types of mobile – iPhone 5, Samsung S3, maybe a Windows phone. Your email should reflect this – it should be mobile responsive. So when customers view in on their device, your email (using the CSS) will know the device isn’t as wide as a desktop computer and the email will stack so you are able to seamlessly scroll up and down without having to shrink the email to fit the screen size.

The screenshot below is one of the pieces of information that can be obtained by Litmus if you use email analytics:

Email Analytics

As you can see from this, there are multiple versions of Microsoft Outlook, going as far back as the version from 2000 and as recent as 2013. From previous experience, I know that there can be some slight differences in the way emails render in different versions of Outlook, so make sure you are testing thoroughly. If a colleague has an earlier version, send them a test and see what it looks like.

You can also use rendering engine data to see how your email will display in different clients across different browsers. We test to Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail in at least two different browsers and there have been times where we have spotted things that display great in one browser, but look very different in another. This is just another reason why you should ALWAYS test your emails!

Below is an example of an email where the Litmus Email Analytics were used to understand which particular browsers were used most often:

Rendering engines and browser usage

Of course, we know that mobile responsive templates are becoming more and more common – currently, about half of all emails are being opened on mobile devices. That’s huge! However, in saying that, you do need to know your audience better before deciding that a brand new, mobile responsive template is the way to go. If you don’t currently have one, doing some research as to how customers are viewing your emails will help you decide – see an example screenshot below. It shows that only 9% of customers viewed this particular email on mobile.

Reading environment

So if you’re keen to learn more about your customers, how they read your emails and from which clients, try the Litmus Email Analytics. It is a brilliant tool that can open up a world of possibilities for your email marketing strategy.

Why you should ALWAYS test your emails

One of the most important lessons I have learned while working in the digital media industry is test. Test, test and test again.

For example, say you are a busy marketer and a client has asked you to deploy an email using a brand new template. The template has been coded and initially tested. But then something more urgent crops up and you don’t have time to test it as thoroughly as you should have. The email is scheduled and it turns out one of the links goes to a 404 Error message page. Then the feedback from customers starts coming in and you wonder why this wasn’t picked up.

Every single email you work on should be 100% accurate and thoroughly tested, as even one broken link could affect opens and clickthrough rates, conversions, or even your reputation.

It is so important to test all features of any project, whether it be an email campaign, a brand new website or a video ad. This article on the Litmus.com blog gives some classic examples of why you should be continuously testing with eDMs.

Email clients drop support without notice
This is crucial especially when it comes to inbox testing. Sometimes different email clients can drop support for HTML and CSS. It doesn’t matter if you have the most beautiful email in the world that will exponentially grow your database and clickthrough rate. If the HTML and CSS is not rendering correctly, it won’t matter in the slightest. Make sure you set up test accounts in different email clients and test them across different browsers – including earlier versions as some of your customers may not have upgraded their software.

Broken or incorrect links
Because most URLs are added to a CTA button or an image, from a design point of view, it’s hard to confirm whether the link is correct unless you test them first. Make sure every link goes to the correct page (whether it be to a new product, your About Us page or a mailto link for an RSVP list).

Spelling and grammar errors

Always check for spelling errors

Unfortunately, once you’ve hit the Send button on your campaign, there is no way to recall it if you suddenly spot a spelling mistake. You know the feeling – you’ve checked the copy and all the links, you send it out, and you immediately recognise that your subject line should say ‘Get it NOW!’ when it actually says ‘Get it NOT!’. If you find yourself in this position, the best thing to do is to send out – as quickly as possible – an apology email to your database.

BUT to make sure you don’t have to resend your email, you should always proof-read your email – multiple times! But then also get a colleague (or three) to check it as well. An extra pair of eyes could spot a spelling mistake that you may have overlooked because you’ve read the copy too many times. Also, how about putting your copy into Word which will detect if any words are incorrectly spelt?

Broken images and missing/incorrect alt text
The alt text is crucial for email marketing – it is the text that customers see before they download the images (this could be their email client’s default setting or just a personal preference), so this needs to make an impact. When you add in new images to replace placeholder images, make sure you insert alt text. When you get a colleague to check your email before it’s deployed, get them to check the alt text on their machine and amend if need be.

Missing or no plain text
Plain text is critical for email marketing, and you need to be aware of how many customers from your database have signed up to just receive this version, rather than the HTML email. This plain text version needs to always include a link to view the HTML online in a browser, so they can see and click on the links. With plain text, you need to ensure that any characters you have (including $, !, ‘ or ” etc…) are typed out, rather that copied and pasted from a secondary source – these will not be supported otherwise.

As with your HTML version, send yourself a copy of the plain text to check all the links and any personalisation you might have (like a first name).

Broken dynamic content
Dynamic content is a great tool to use as you are able to personalise your emails by segmenting your database and providing different pieces of content for various customers. For example, if you’re a pet store, you could send out an email to all your customers, but include an additional section to all customers who have dogs, to let them know dog food is on special. Make sure you do multiple tests with different blocks to check the right customer gets the right section. There is nothing worse than finding out once your email has gone out that some criteria has changed and you didn’t test it properly.

These are just some of the things you should look for when you are testing your emails, but there are, of course, so many more. What specific things do you test for? Do you have a checklist of things to tick off before the email can be scheduled to deploy? I would love to hear from you!

Media queries in email – what they are and the benefits of them

Over the past few months I’ve been working on a massive project for one of my clients, which requires a lot of technical assistance around an email and offers that are specific to each customer. We have been testing both the email and the respective landing page where these offers will be housed and one thing I’ve noticed is this: there are such a vast variety of mobile devices that we can test on, but not of all them show the email in its full form.

The reason behind this? Media queries – the all important piece of code that helps make things easier. But what is a media query? This post from Litmus.com will help dissect this and explain some of the benefits of using them.

Media queries are a component of cascading styles sheets (CSS) – the language that is used to style websites and eDM campaigns. Essentially, these queries act as rules to trigger certain styles on different devices.

The query itself is broken down into three different parts:

  1. Media Type: this allows us to confirm what type of media the rules should be applied to (all, print, screen, speech). Emails will use the screen type.
  2. Expression: you use this to target devices based on specific conditions. Expressions test media features, which describe different features of a device (such as width, height and colour).
  3. Style rules within the query: these CSS rules can be toggled when the email is opened on a devices that satisfies both the media type and expressions

Especially with more and more emails being mobile responsive, it is very important to include these media queries at the top of your email within the CSS, so the rules can be applied to mobile devices. Front-end developers are constantly looking at different ways to apply these to non-standard devices, such as Windows phones.

The most common benefit of using media queries is so they can be used to fine-tune email designs so they will look good on a wide range of devices. Take this scenario as an example:

An email marketing company is designing a brand new template for a client, but they have designed it for the desktop first, so the eDM looks great on desktop and webmail clients, but breaks down when viewed on mobile devices. The email zooms in to fit the screen, making the copy and CTA buttons unreadable, the layout is broken and sometimes horizontal scrolling is required. Not a very good user experience at all! But these media queries have now put an end to that, so we can target mobile devices and adjust the email styles to suit.

However – and this comes back to my first point above – media queries unfortunately don’t work everywhere. The number 1 spot for lack of support of media queries goes to Gmail (both online in a browser and in the native email apps on Android and iOS devices). The third party Gmail app on most phones will actually strip out some of the media queries within the CSS, making it very hard for mobile responsive emails to look 100% accurate. Below are some example of email clients (both phone and browser clients) that do/don’t support media queries:

SUPPORT OF MEDIA QUERIES:

  • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
  • Android 4.x native client
  • Android Outlook.com app
  • Outlook.com (iOS)
  • Windows Phone 7.5
  • BlackBerry OS 6
  • BlackBerry OS 7
  • BlackBerry Z10
  • Kindle Fire native client

DEVICES THAT DON’T SUPPORT MEDIA QUERIES:

  • Gmail app (iOS + Android)
  • Inbox by Gmail app (iOS + Android)
  • Android Outlook Exchange via native client
  • Android Yahoo! Mail app
  • Gmail (Android Browser)
  • Mailbox (iOS + Android)
  • Outlook.com (Android Browser)
  • Yahoo! Mail (Android Browser)
  • Windows Phone 7
  • Windows Phone 8

When you’re creating a mobile responsive template, it’s important to remember that when it’s being coded for different devices, you should use a solid foundation of HTML and inline CSS. If you use media queries to create a masterpiece of an eDM campaign but your customer database has, for example, a Windows Phone 8 or they use the native Gmail app on iOS, the email is not going to render as nicely as it would on an iPhone or an Android phone.

Have you experienced testing your email on a device that doesn’t support media queries? How did you work around that?

Plain text in emails – some best practice tips

Creating HTML emails is somewhat of an art form – and these emails can be heavily creative, with fantastic call-to-action (CTA) buttons and loads of links to interesting articles or to new and exciting products. I know for me, looking at the engagement levels for a particular campaign is quite exhilarating to see how this campaign has increased in unique opens and clickthroughs from the last one!

But what about the equally-as-important-yet-often-forgotten-about plain text version of the email? This is just as important (Source) as the HTML version of the email.

Plain text emails are exactly that – just plain text. They are the equivalent to a letter written on a typewriter (very old school) – with no images, links or images. And while they visually may not look as pretty or attractive as HTML-based emails, they play a vital role in the overall email marketing strategy.

So why should you use plain text versions alongside your HTML email? Email clients use what people in the know term ‘Multi-part MIME’ (or Multi-purpose Internet Mail Extensions) – essentially this bundles the text and HTML version of your email together when an eDM is deployed and there are three main reasons to have both versions:

1) Spam filters
Spam filters (like Litmus.com for example) need to see a plain-text alternative; if it’s not present, it is a major red flag.

2) Different email clients and apps
Some email clients and apps may not be able to handle HTML as well as plain text versions. So if your email is sent out without a plain text version and your subscriber’s email client doesn’t render the email as it should, you might have some frustrated customers calling, so always include the plain text!

3) Some people prefer it!
Simply put, some customers prefer to receive the plain text version. When people sign up to receive your newsletters, you should give them the option of signing up for the HTML or plain text version. If you don’t give them a choice and they are unable to view HTML emails, they might end up with something like this raw code below, which is definitely not the ideal experience you want for your customers!

Raw code

Optimise your plain text emails as you would your HTML version. Most ESPs will send in multi-part MIME automatically, but some email platforms will give you the option to manually update your plain text version. ALWAYS include a link to the online version, so customers can view the HTML message in a browser and if you’re able to, include some personalisation, like a first name. You should also test both versions at the same time, to ensure everything looks accurate. Amend, test and re-test.

Because the plain text is focused solely on the copy that you’ve included and you don’t have any of the HTML design elements to fall back on, you need to ensure your plain text is readable and customers don’t just dismiss it. Create a positive email experience – all the time, every time! Use things like headlines to break up the content and focus on the important aspects. But just like with your HTML version, you should always include some form of CTA and these need to be defined and stand out. Take the example below – this company has one major CTA which includes two angled brackets (>>) to draw attention to it. It is also well above the fold so your customers won’t have to scroll to find it.

CTAs in plain text
The other great thing about this example is that the company hasn’t overdone the use of links. With too many links, the customer can get overwhelmed, not knowing which link is more important than another. This could be devastating to your bottom line. The minimalistic approach of this example below shows how this should be done:

Minimal links in plain text version

Although having a beautifully designed and laid-out HTML is a great way to showcase your company and the services/products you offer, make sure the next time you send out an email campaign to your customer database that you spend some extra time and attention perfecting your plain text version.

5 skills a Marketing Manager needs to master

This article came across my Inbox this week, posted on the Marketing Association blog. The reason I wanted to post and share about it is I get asked a particular question quite often:

What is your dream job?

That is the million dollar question, isn’t it?! I’ve often thought about what I would absolutely love to do every day for the rest of my life, and there are several factors that contribute to this. I would love to be hands-on with anything to do with digital marketing, but I would also love to be a senior manager and lead/mentor a small team to be the best that they can be.

Which is why this post, the 5 skills a marketing manager needs to master, is crucial for success in upper management.

1. Project Management
Mastering a management role is probably one of the hardest parts of being a Marketing Manager. You need to be an integral part of every marketing manager job you have. You also need to have a team who are reliable and who you can count on, so you have an overview of their day-to-day tasks to ensure everything they are doing lines up with the project brief you’ve been handed.

As well as internal relationships, you also need to manage the client. Ask yourself – what would I want to know if I was the client? If there are any issues, queries, anomalies or other potential pitfalls, you need to constantly be in contact with them to keep them updated as to how everything is going. If you go more than a few days without contact, especially if it is on a massive, technical brief, you could risk having an upset client.

2. Strategic thinking
As the Marketing Manager of any business, it is vital to be able to think about and approach problems with a completely unique perspective – this is the strategic viewpoint that you need to master. You need to be able to think about things a little bit differently to everyone else. After all, you are the senior manager!

When you’re making decisions, these can’t be done hastily or on short-term thinking, if you’re going into a meeting about the 5 or 10-year vision of the company. You need to understand how to manage the unique needs of every individual involved in the project. Will this help the client achieve their internal goals and deliver on budget?

How can you think about things in a way that will excite and motivate your team, so they – and your client – can succeed with this project? You need to be able to execute the strategy you have put forward – if you can’t, rethink it.

I love this quote I found by Albert Einstein:

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

3. Problem solving and critical thinking
No doubt your job will be riddled with issues and challenges – but it’s how you handle these and push forward that will really test you as the Marketing Manager. Remember this: your team will need you. Your clients will need you. And your direct manager (perhaps the CEO or Marketing Director) needs you to show results – and more often than not, the needs of these people will clash and you’ll need to find an answer for them all, while keeping them happy with the direction of the project.

To achieve this, you must have strong decision-making skills and the conviction to stand by that decision. Don’t ever sweep issues under the rug – it will come back to bite you if you do.

4. Technical and analytical skills
I know from many years of experience working with SEO and CMS systems that I have more of a technical and analytical mind that a creative mind. I am much happier working behind the scenes and with HTML than designing outstanding creative. This goes for Marketing Managers too – they have an analytical mind and are capable of understanding and sorting through the incredible amounts of data available today. But all this goes far beyond simply knowing how data can affect things like consumer behaviour and segmentation – this is what will lead to far more effective marketing strategies for your clients. 

As well as this, Marketing Managers needs to be savvy when it comes to technology – this will greatly influence a marketer’s role. This means you constantly need to be aware of new tools, apps, widgets, programmes and software that can help you build and sustain client relationships and to deliver effective information and services.

5. Interpersonal Communication
I did a paper on Interpersonal Communication while I was studying at AUT and I found in fascinating how you’re able to hone in and develop your communication skills. This is key to being a Marketing Manager – how you listen to, embrace, understand, empathise and respond to your team, your bosses and your clients.

You must become an expert communicator on both an internal and external level: this will be tested on a regular basis! But it is your job to make communication is open, honest and operating at all times, for the benefit of everyone involved.

Just take one step at a time

One of the most important things I have learned while working in this industry is this.

There will always be big projects that can spiral out of your control. There will always be clients who need something yesterday and you need to work through certain processes to deliver. There will always be something more important that crops up and you have to work your tail off in order to deliver.

But remember this:

Your speed doesn't matter - forward is forward!

Slow and steady progress – with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of testing – is more important, than rushing through a project to find there are many holes along the way.

Your speed doesn’t matter: forward is forward. One day you might be the hare, racing through jobs like nobody’s business. Other days you might be the tortoise, slowly and methodically working through your tasks.

Keep thinking about the next step. Keep testing. Keep clients informed of your progress and the horizon will be ever-so-slightly closer.

Triggered emails – it’s never ‘set it and forget it’!

I’ve been reading the Litmus blog recently and there are some really interesting articles, all to do with email marketing. Analytics, triggered emails, display testing, subject line testing, designs of buttons, image blocking – if you can think of it, there’s probably a post about it!

I came across this article which is all about triggered emails and their reputation of being ‘set it and forget it’ programs. Some people have even gone so far as to say that once the emails are set up, just quietly run in the background, bringing in revenue and you don’t have to touch them again.

This just isn’t true.

Triggered emails should be called ‘review and renew’ programs, because you should always be keeping an inventory of your triggered email programs to regularly fine-tune them. Make sure you check your emails at least once every quarter to ensure images, links, display rendering and other functionality (such as the View Online link) remains intact.

The team at Litmus came up with two great reasons why you should constantly check your triggered emails: quality assurance and optimisation.

Quality assurance is such a big part of email marketing, because your emails connect your customers to your website, product or service, are an expression of your brand identity, tie into your other marketing strategies and are delivered to a variety of email clients across various browsers and devices. If you don’t check these programs on a regular basis, you could find that they have:

  • Broken links/redirects and old navigation links
  • Out-of-date branding or messaging
  • Faulty trigger logic
  • Broken rendering and functionality because of code support changes at ISPs

If you’re not sure how old the content of your email is, looking at copyright notices is a cheat’s way to confirm. There are ESPs available that let you make automatic updates to these programs, but it’s recommended that you do manual updates, as it forces you to physically view the email and to make other necessary updates.

Take the example below – a lot of subscribers missed the primary message from this cart abandonment email because data about the specific product didn’t populate correctly.

Cart abandonment issue

One major thing to test with all emails – I will do a blog post on this over the coming weeks – is rendering. This is how the eDM will display across multiple browsers and email clients. HTML and CSS is always changing for different Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and there are no standards of support. The example below is a classic example – the alignment of the background is misaligned when the text was added:

Display rendering

Optimisation is key when it comes to reviewing triggered emails. With more businesses adopting a welcome triggered program (consisting of more than one email), there are so many more opportunities for things to be incorrect UNLESS you are constantly reviewing them. Think about that. If you have a triggered email program that has a welcome email with a sign-up link, a birthday email and a cart abandonment email, that is at least three emails to review, renew and retest. Things to consider include:

  • The conditions in which the next email in the series will be/won’t be sent
  • Timing of all emails
  • The messaging across the program and how they interact with one another

Do you have any tips or guidelines when it comes to reviewing your triggered email content? If you do, leave a comment below!

Need some tips to improve your Social Media marketing strategy?

Following up from my previous post, I wanted to do another article on Social Media Marketing and how you can improve your strategy. So when this blog post landed in my Inbox, it was the perfect opportunity to share it around.

The team at GetAmbassador.com have come up with 10 easy Social Media marketing tips to consider when creating your strategy. Here we go!

1) Have a plan!
This should go without saying, but the first rule of creating a Social Media strategy is to have a plan of attack. The plan should have measurable goals that can be analysed once complete to determine whether the plan was executed successfully. Just because it’s ‘social’ doesn’t mean it’s any different to any other marketing initiative. Set yourself specific objectives that can be tracked.

2) Produce valuable content
The customers who view your Facebook business page have particular needs, so the most effective way to keep them coming back is to provide content that addresses those needs. That’s also the best way to encourage social sharing, which will ultimately increase your following and have a greater impact on your business. The more content your produce, the more your customers will take it in and keep coming back.

3) Keep your brand identity consistent
To ensure your customers come to know and trust your brand, you must provide them with the same experience however they interact with you. Whether it’s through social media, via the contact centre on in-store, your message and tone should be consistent across the board. There is nothing more satisfying that hearing a customer say they know your brand and want to engage with you on a personal level.

4) K.I.S.S. – Keep It Super Simple
Just because your competitors are on every social network available, doesn’t mean you have to be! The key to a successful social media marketing strategy is to determine which channels will provide the best access to your target audience and focusing your efforts there. There is no point in having a blog linked to your Facebook or Twitter pages if you’re not going to consistently populate it with relevant content.

5) Quality over quantity
Every business on social media would love to have millions of fans and followers, but this can’t be all you aim for. Social media marketing is only valuable if it helps grow your business. If you have a huge following but those people haven’t been converted to customers or refer your brand to others, it’s not as good as having a smaller group of highly targeted individuals. Make sure you identify your key target audience and keep them engaged with your content.

6) Produce different types of content
My previous post spoke on this very point, that Facebook posts with images have a much higher rate of engagement than text alone. Plus, if you’re into creating video content on new products, almost 3/4 of customers are more likely to visit your website if they watch it. You can’t simply write blog posts and link them to all your social networks – this won’t get you very far and you could lose a lot of customers.

7) Engage with your followers!
This one might also seem a bit obvious, but you would be surprised how many business make the mistake of neglecting the social aspect of Social Media Marketing. You need to engage with your customers and prospects on a personal level – but not just to market your products. Actively engaging with your fans and followers rather than focusing on marketing to them will help them gain your trust and see you as the go-to brand for their needs. Start a discussion, or put up a tweet with an open-ended question so customers can converse with you. Show customers the personality behind your brand.

8) Make it easy to connect
To be successful, you need fans and followers – that’s a given. But you need to make it easy for them to connect with you. Why not include social buttons to all your networks on every page of your website (usually in the footer), so customers can easily join and follow you. You should also include a sign-up link in your email marketing and blog.

9) Tackle negative comments head-on
It’s becoming more and more common for customers these days to take to social media to voice their opinions and share bad experiences they’ve had with a brand. But you should never ignore or delete these negative comments. Make sure you’re responding to them in a timely and positive manner and more often than not, you will get the customer who posted a negative comment turn about face and say something extremely positive.

From experience, it is absolutely crucial that you respond to every negative comment within at least 24 hours, so the customer knows you’re not just forgetting about them. If you let them know you’re looking into why they had a bad experience, they will be happy someone is taking the time to listen and help them out. Sometimes things can spiral out of control on social media, because it is such a public forum. If you need to, take it offline, but post the positive result at the end so everyone else can see the issue was resolved.

10) Measure your results
You need to check your social media marketing results from time to time to identify what’s working and what isn’t. Unfortunately this is not a simple ‘set and forget’ type business – you could end up wasting money and not reaching as many customers as you should. Work out a list of objectives to achieve and a schedule of content – if you stick to your schedule and review your performance against your objectives, you will ensure that your networks will continue to grow.

Social Media can be the main source for learning about new brands, products and services and is undoubtedly one of the most powerful marketing tools for businesses today. These 10 tips are just a snapshot of things you could do to help you reach a higher rate of success and growing your business through social media marketing.